Cameron Stallones’ work as Sun Araw sounds like he shared a slow, deep trip into the woods with Sun Ra, Spiritualized, and Lee “Scratch” Perry, then wrote music to represent what they saw. He’s got Ra’s love of spacy rhythms and drones, Spiritualized’s heavy, reverb-drenched psychedelia, and Perry’s dub beats. All of it in spades. And each album gets stronger, from 2008’s dual Not Not Fun releases of The Phynx and Beachhead to last year’s superb Heavy Deeds. But with On Patrol, Stallones outdoes all of it, intensifying his methods and producing a powerfully unique record.
The close-knit, communal idiosyncrasy of the Not Not Fun family comes through perfectly on this record. Stallones, of Magic Lantern, contributor to Pocahaunted and Vibes, is certainly in with the back-porch, smokey Southern California psychedelia of labelmates Ducktails. The jungle scenes and neon pyramids on his album covers give a picture of the sounds on the inside: Sun Araw is dense, bright without being too breezy, lush, tropical, and engrossing.
The 80-minute-plus double LP begins with “Ma Holo”, the most straightforward NNF/Sun Araw sound: a wavering, looped guitar line, simple percussion, and a shambling guitar solo over the top of it. Eventually, deeply fuzzed, chanted, wordless vocals bubble up through the treeline, a vague, space-staring tribe in the middle of the jungle. The bongos beat out a heartbeat, the watery guitar fiddling around loosely, freely. The tension builds and fades until the wobbly, ethereal sounds signal the next track’s beginning. This is the first moment you realize you spent a long time listening to only a few sounds, the totality of the environment having wrapped around you so tightly, so warmly.
The heavy, post-apocalyptic tropicalia that follows in “Beat Cop”, then, is that much more jarring. While some musicians this into drone and repetition might be content to have their themes envelop you, Stallones pushes you out of one world and into another, bigger, more entrancing one. Synthy stabs and crackling guitars lift underneath swarms of crumbling, bassy vocal samples.
And it doesn’t end there. The slow-building, calming “Conga Mind” fills your head like a slowly poured, chilly, tropical beverage. The bombed-out, crushing calypso sample for “Deep Cover” sounds like Black Dice meeting El Guincho in a club full of molasses. The resulting space jam is one of the best Stallones has produced. The organ-y collisions of “The Stakeout” come the closest to Pocahaunted’s newest venture into lo-funk, but a more masculine version, heavy, urging, chanting.
The album builds and fades, hits you over the head, then walks away, leaving you to look at the strobe-lit jungle around you. Sitting to this album might sound like a daunting challenge (it is very long), but you won’t regret it. There are no dull moments, no points at which the drones lie too heavy or run shallow.